Bunny Lane Brings Joy

Inviting children to choose a special toy on their way to surgery is one of Le Bonheur’s oldest and most beloved traditions, established and sustained by Le Bonheur Club since 1952. Through the years, the tradition has grown from a simply-stocked Bunny Room to the hallway-length Bunny Lane, overflowing with developmentally appropriate toys for kids ranging in age from newborn to late teens.

The Hall of Toys

Bunny Lane allows kids to be kids

“Are we going to the hall with toys?”

Madison “Maddie” Fulgham would ask this question of her mom many times throughout her seven-month stay awaiting a heart transplant at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. After all, “the hall with toys,” formally known as Bunny Lane, quickly became 4-year-old Maddie’s favorite place in the hospital, according to her mother, Meggan Mickle. Meggan and Maddie first arrived at Le Bonheur in summer of 2022 along with Maddie’s twin brother, Junior, and the three would call Le Bonheur’s Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) home until January of the following year.


“Madison is a ball of miracles and fire,” said Meggan. “She was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a rare congenital heart defect, during my pregnancy and experienced her first open heart surgery at only 8 days old. At 6 months old, Maddie underwent her second open heart surgery and had numerous smaller procedures and surgeries in between. We knew, from a very young age, that Madison would require a heart transplant early in her life.”

In the first few years of Maddie’s care, she and her family became intimately familiar with hospitals and heart procedures — but it wasn’t until their local hospital in Mississippi closed its transplant program that the family became connected with Le Bonheur.

“When our local hospital shut down their transplant program it was devastating, but we searched for another place to call home and we found Le Bonheur,” recalled Meggan. “Everyone was so warm and inviting. Le Bonheur was a place of new beginnings.”

Maddie was admitted to Le Bonheur’s CCU in June 2022 for a heart transplant workup, where she, Meggan and Junior would remain until Maddie received her “forever” heart on Nov. 28 of that year. Including post-transplant recovery time, the family lived at Le Bonheur for nearly seven months, during which time Maddie made more than a dozen visits to Bunny Lane to undergo pre- and post-transplant procedures and, of course, the transplant surgery itself. According to her mom, the opportunity for Maddie to pick out a new toy before every procedure or surgery made a profound difference in her daughter’s care experience.


“As a young child undergoing frequent medical procedures, Bunny Lane meant the difference between a complete meltdown for Maddie and her brother or a smooth transition for them both,” said Meggan. “The chance to ‘shop’ for a new toy made Maddie forget she was headed into another surgery, and even if that only lasted a moment, the experience still gave my kids the chance to be kids and briefly forget about living in a hospital.”

Running Around With Nothing Attached

Frequent Bunny Late visitor makes full recovery after heart transplant

As a care team member heavily involved in Maddie’s play and development throughout her seven-month inpatient stay, Le Bonheur Certified Child Life Specialist Kristin Pittman also bore witness to the significant impact Bunny Lane made on Maddie.

Kristin worked with the family on a daily basis from June through December of 2022, providing Maddie and Junior with developmentally appropriate education about her upcoming heart transplant and routinely engaging them in both medical play and normative activities such as creative arts and special events. Meggan, meanwhile, received emotional support, suggestions of coping techniques for herself and the twins, and frequent Maddie photos and updates when Meggan was away from the hospital.

“My favorite memories of Maddie are watching her play with the toys and art activities she picked out from Bunny Lane,” recalled Kristin. “She would always be so excited to show me and other CCU staff members the toys she picked out, and there was never a shortage of fun things to do in her room! In her final weeks at Le Bonheur after her heart transplant, I remember standing in the hallway with Meggan and other staff watching Maddie running around with nothing attached to her, enjoying all the toys she received over the months of her admission. We almost had tears in our eyes watching her get to run, play and just be a kid again.”


Delayne Williams, clinical director for Le Bonheur’s Same Day Surgery, Post Anesthesia Care and Pre-Surgical Screening Units, also extols the many benefits of Bunny Lane for a child’s surgical experience. A nursing leader with nearly two decades in service to Le Bonheur, Delayne appreciates the essential role Bunny Lane toys can play as distraction therapy for both pre- and post-operative patients.

“I can’t imagine Le Bonheur Surgery without Bunny Lane,” said Delayne. “It gives the children something to look forward to after having their weight, height and vital signs checked. When kids turn that corner and see all of the toys displayed on the shelves just like a toy store, their eyes light up. Sometimes we see that same expression on their parents faces, too. And with pre-op wait times ranging from 90 minutes to two hours, Bunny Lane toys are the perfect distraction tool to help keep children happy and engaged.”


In addition to the distraction therapy benefits, Bunny Lane also provides many parents with a positive experience leading up to their child’s operation or procedure. Parents of infants are encouraged to choose a toy on their child’s behalf, which they can then use to comfort and engage their child in play during recovery. And, for older children, Bunny Lane provides a sense of autonomy, choice and control during a vulnerable time, as kids are empowered to decide which toy they would like to play with and take home after surgery.

“I truly cannot imagine my job without Bunny Lane because of the daily impact I see it make on patients and families, no matter how long they are here at the hospital,” said Kristin. “I am so grateful that Le Bonheur Club understands how important play is during a child’s hospital experience and recognizes the value of kids simply wanting to be kids. It’s my hope that Bunny Lane will continue on forever because of the positive impact, normalization and play opportunities it provides for all Le Bonheur surgery patients, as well as their families.”


A Definite Labor of Love

Volunteer efforts sustain Le Bonheur Club’s signature outreach initiative

Lala Dando, former Bunny Lane Chair and Le Bonheur Club’s immediate past President, also views Bunny Lane as essential to the pediatric surgical experience at Le Bonheur — not to mention a personal favorite pastime when dedicating service hours to the hospital.


“As many times as I’ve had a patient come through to pick out a toy while I’m stocking Bunny Lane, it never gets old to see that child light up and see the smile that comes across their face,” said Lala. “To bring a child some joy right before they undergo surgery brings a smile to your face, knowing that you’re providing a child some happiness and granting their parent some comfort and peace of mind on an otherwise difficult and stressful day.”

Each year, Le Bonheur Club donates more than $100,000 worth of toys, plus hundreds of volunteer hours receiving, organizing and stocking items on Bunny Lane, to support the hospital’s annual surgical volume of more than 12,000 operations. The time-honored tradition has been hailed as the Club’s signature outreach initiative by current President Debbie Compton, who echoes hospital staff in her desire for Bunny Lane to continue serving children far into the future.

“Bunny Lane is a definite labor of love, representing thousands of toys and many volunteer hours every year,” said Debbie. “The care experience at Le Bonheur is centered on the child, which means every patient undergoing surgery receives a toy — and many children remember what toy they picked out before surgery well into adulthood. Bunny Lane is a blessing to children and their parents, and of all of our programming, I believe this tradition should always continue.”

And for parents like Meggan, who is now pursuing a career in pediatric nursing, Bunny Lane stands as a testament to the loving care she and her children received during one of their family’s most trying times.

“Bunny Lane is the heart of Le Bonheur,” said Meggan. “Without it, there are days we wouldn’t have made it. As a parent, it hurts that I cannot always relieve my children’s fears, but knowing Bunny Lane is there to provide Maddie with comfort in her time of need gives me comfort as well. Bunny Lane always gave us something to look forward to, and I believe this place plays a vital role keeping the hopes and spirits of children alive.”

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